Paul teaches that even the faith that produces no good works, can justify a sinner before God:

 1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.
 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.
 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: (Rom 4:1-6 NAS)

James described the faith that produces no good works, as “dead”:

 14 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
 24 You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
 25 And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (Jam 2:14-26 NAS)

Fundies usually attempt to reconcile these two passages by saying that these two statements refer to different things and cannot be contradictory, namely, Paul is teaching justification before God, and James is teaching justification before men.

But the proof that James intended to refute apostle Paul specifically, and not just some antinomian perversion of Paul’s teaching, is in James 2:20…”you foolish fellow…”.  

Why does James change in the immediate context from addressing “my brethren” (2:14.Greek: ἀδελφοί, adelphoi, plural, ‘brothers’) to narrowing his address to “fellow” (2:20, Greek: ἄνθρωπε, vocative singular, “man”)? 

The fact that James was addressing his epistle to multiple persons scattered all over the place (” James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings. (Jam 1:1 NAS)) does indeed raise a legitimate question on why he felt compelled to specify in 2:20 his intent to direct his teaching to a certain specific man.

Without substantive evidence to the contrary, the narrowing of the focus on the addressees down to a single specific man should be interpreted for what it is contextually and grammatically, a reference to a certain specific individual that is among the “brethren” James was addressing.  Who might that man be?

James in context is teaching that Christians are justified by their works and not by faith alone (2:24), so the specific “man” James chooses to begin addressing would be somebody who was teaching that we are justified by faith “alone”.  That would be Paul.

Fundies, overcome by desire to free the bible from any contradictions, will insist that nothing Paul wrote in the NT ever teaches that Christians are justified by faith alone, hence, James was surely attacking somebody else who had taken Paul’s teaching to an extreme.

Such fundies would be wrong, since there is at least one verse of Paul where he declares in no uncertain terms that faith will justify even those believers who don’t work, that would be Romans 4:5, here it is in context:

 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.
 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
 (Rom 4:4-6 NAS)

At least one commentary written by conservative Christians who think the bible contains no errors whatsoever, admits the obvious:

When people work, their wages come not as gifts but because they have earned them. The spiritual realm, however, is different. In this case those who do not work but believe are regarded by God as righteous.

Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System;
The New American Commentary (Page 123). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The fundies will, of course, not like the idea that James was addressing a certain specific person who taught justification by faith apart from works, since that opens to the door to the possibility that the person James intended to contradict was apostle Paul, thus establishing that the bible contradicts itself, and causing fundies to lose a lot of sleep at night.  Fundies will therefore insist my interpretation is wrong.

Unfortunately, my view that James in James 2:20 is addressing a single specific individual known for teaching justification by faith apart from works, is justified by the grammar (ἄνθρωπε, vocative singular, “man”), and justified by the context (the closest antecedent to James 2:20 for identifying whom James was addressing in that context is 2:14 “my brethren”, which shows James switching his focus from addressing a group to addressing an individual).

If fundies wish to keep closed the door to the possibility that James was condemning apostles Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith apart from works, they will have to show that my interpretation is unjustified on grammatical grounds, contextual grounds, or a combination of both.  They do not achieve this goal by simply asserting with great confidence that my interpretation is indeed false.  I provided my arguments, so they need to provide counter arguments, not just blind assurances that I got something wrong.

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